After two albums as vocalist for Australian indie/electro outfit Decoder Ring, former actress Lenka Kripac has jumped headfirst into the pre-heated waters of mainstream pop with her eponymous solo debut, released in the US in September 2008. Recorded in Los Angeles rather than Kripac’s native Australia and helmed by hip hop maestro turned female piano-pop super-producer Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, Regina Spektor’s Far), Lenka is just under 40 minutes of MTV-ripe tunes polished to a gleam you can see your own face in. But is there any substance behind the sheen? Despite the album playing like a technicolour Broadway musical where all the actors have had something illegal dropped into their lemonade, thankfully Kripac has a dark side to balance her hyper pop tunes. Likened by some to Spektor and Björk, there’s a playfulness on display here, driven home by a pleasingly wicked way with words.
Maddeningly infectious lead single ‘The Show’, already hugely popular across Europe (presumably due in part to Kripac’s Slavic heritage), starts off the album as it means to go on, with the disillusionment of adulthood spun through the eyes of a child. “Life is a maze and love is a riddle,” sings Kripac, apparently totally bewildered by the madness of the grown-up world around her. Like Leslie Feist’s ’1234′, it has an intoxicating nursery rhyme catchiness, but unlike Feist’s The Reminder, which dilutes the saccharine of the single in amongst a more subtle and varied album, Lenka continues in much the same vein throughout. It’s perhaps representative of both the strength of the single and the limitations of the album that, by the time the record finishes, you’re still humming the melody to the first track.
That’s not to say the quality of the rest of the songs drops too far below the bar set by ‘The Show’. Fans of slightly left-of-centre chart pop are likely to enjoy the pleasing perkiness of ‘Bring Me Down’ and ‘Dangerous & Sweet’ (with guest vocals from Howie Day), and the dreamy Sunday afternoon feel of slower tracks ‘Skipalong’ and ‘Knock Knock’. Elizondo’s top-notch production and the stirring string arrangements courtesy of Beck’s dad David Campbell make the album incredibly easy on the ear. The only time rain threatens to shower on the picnic is two-thirds into the album on forthcoming single ‘Trouble Is A Friend’, though the threateningly black verses (“Trouble, he will find you no matter where you go, oh no”) give way to a much more content but disappointingly neat chorus.
Kripac clearly has a way with a tune and if it’s chart domination she’s going for, she may well be on the right track. Still, it’s difficult to see these songs having much of a lasting effect. As pop platters go, Lenka serves up an adequate child-sized portion of fun but is likely to leave a lot of adults hungry for something a bit more substantial.
UK release date: 29/06/09; www.myspace.com/lenkamusic